22. BMJ Rejected a Scientist’s Refutation of Fraud

  1. A scientist’s substantive commentary refuting the charge of fraud was rejected by the BMJ

    In September 2011, Dr. David Lewis[157], a microbiologist, the recipient of the Science Achievement Award by the editors of Annals of Internal Medicine in 2010; whose experience includes examining colonic biopsies at the University of Georgia, and his publications include reports in the Lancet and Nature Medicine, submitted a commentary for publication to the BMJ. The commentary was a detailed critique and refutation of Deer’s first BMJ article, “Wakefield’s “autistic enterocolitis” under the Microscope(April 2010).

In this BMJ article, Deer resurrected his allegation of fraud against Dr. Wakefield– which he had made in his GMC complaint. Despite the fact that the GMC prosecutor had abandoned pursuing that charge (in 2007) for lack of any evidence, and despite persuasive testimonies by the pathologists who refuted such a possibility,149 the BMJ published Deer’s unsubstantiated outrageous allegations that Dr. Wakefield had acted alone and fabricated the children’s bowel disease diagnoses in “a deal with a solicitor hammered in a lawsuit.”

Dr. Lewis submitted his manuscript for publication, accompanied by the original grading sheets that had been prepared by Dr. Dhillon and Dr. Anthony, for 11 of the 12 Lancet children, and the “missing” photomicrographs of biopsy slides. These slides and grading sheets had been submitted in evidence to the GMC. Dr. Lewis analyzed the biopsy slides and grading sheets, and concluded that the diagnostic determinations were made in good faith; that Table 1 in the Lancet article reported the children’s diagnoses accurately; and there was no basis for the BMJ charges of fraud against Dr. Wakefield. The documents, he wrote, “leave no doubt that Dr. Wakefield did not make up the diagnosis of colitis as Deer alleged.” [Read Appendix 6]

  • Indeed, a few months later, the High Court adjudicated the evidence supporting the accuracy of the children’s diagnoses as reported in Table 1 in the Lancet. The Court’s determination effectively demolished the allegation of falsification.

Dr. Godlee rejected Dr. Lewis’ commentary, and suggested that he submit a “rapid response” comment instead. [Note: rapid response comments only appear in the online electronic version; they can (and have) disappeared. BMJ shielded Deer by removing (or not posting) readers’ “rapid response” critiques of his allegations.[158]]